We won’t be singing “My Old Kentucky Home” with tears in our eyes Saturday, but racing fans will hardly be bereft on only the second first Saturday in May in 146 years without a Kentucky Derby.
With the Run for the Roses scheduled for the first Saturday in September, racing officials at Oaklawn Park seized the opportunity to move the Arkansas Derby to the vacated date with magical connotations for many horseplayers. The race drew so much interest that it will now be run in two divisions, which will be televised on Fox Sports 1 and streamed on the New York Racing Association’s YouTube channel.
But interesting though those races may be, those craving at least a whiff of roses might instead want to tune in Saturday from noon to 3 p.m. to watch a special built around Kentucky Derby traditions and memories, capped by a virtual race pitting the 13 winners of the Triple Crown against one another.
It’s a clever concept, since all of those horses won the Kentucky Derby in addition to the Preakness and Belmont stakes.
But to give credit where credit is due, the idea actually was hatched by organizers of the Grand National, a staple of steeplechase racing in England for more than 180 years. After the race was canceled by the pandemic, organizers last month staged a computer-simulated race featuring 40 horses modeled off their real-life counterparts. There was betting on the race, which was won by 18-1 shot Potter’s Corner, with profits going to the National Health Service’s charitable wing.
There won’t be betting on the “Triple Crown Showdown” between Sir Barton (1919), Gallant Fox (1930), Omaha (1935), War Admiral (1937), Whirlaway (1941), Count Fleet (1943), Assault (1946), Citation (1948), Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977), Affirmed (1978), American Pharoah (2015) and Justify (2018).
Churchill Downs is encouraging fans to visit KentuckyDerby.com to back a horse and make a charitable donation to COVID-19 emergency relief efforts, which it will match. If you’re in a financial pinch because of the coronavirus, you can also enter for free.
Churchill line maker Mike Battaglia has installed Secretariat as the 7-2 morning line favorite.
#RJhorseracing featured races
The #RJhorseracing crowd ’cappers are taking on both divisions of the $500,000 Grade 1 Arkansas Derby, a 1⅛th-mile test for 3-year-olds that will award 100 qualifying points toward entry into the Kentucky Derby to each winner and lesser points to the other three top finishers.
In the first division, the crowd ’cappers are backing the even-money morning line favorite Charlatan, who is 2-for-2 for trainer Bob Baffert but steps up into stakes company for the first time. They like Gouvernor Morris (9-2) and Basin (8-1) to fill out the trifecta.
Regular readers will know that I love to try to beat heavy favorites, but I’m going to throw in the towel and go with Charlatan. With Shooters Shoot (8-1), the only horse with enough speed to pressure him early, expected to scratch, the son of Speightstown looks long gone barring a poor break from the inside post or an intense dislike for the Oaklawn strip. I’ll use Anneau d’Or (6-1) and Gouvernor Morris to place and show.
The second division appears more competitive, but the handicapping crew is on a serious Baffert kick and thinks the silver-maned Hall of Famer will take this race as well with 5-2 morning line favorite Nadal, who is 3-for-3 in Calilfornia. They like King Guillermo (3-1) and Wells Bayou (7-2) to fill out the minor placings.
Even if I didn’t have an aversion to chalk, I’d have to try to beat Nadal. He’s won all his races on the front end but is facing more speed. I’ll use King Guillermo on top, with Farmington Road (12-1) and Silver Prospector (10-1) filling out the trifecta.
Ellis Starr’s Arkansas Derby analysis
Leading the first division is Charlatan, undefeated and untested in two races to date. Both wins were earned leading from start to finish and he should have an easy lead once again in this race as there aren’t any other horses likely to take him on in the early stages for fear of costing themselves a chance at success, or at least some points. Charlatan earned a career-best 108 Equibase Speed Figure winning his most recent race, which is the best figure earned by any horse in the field, and he could improve off the effort in his third career start. However, Charlatan is stretching out to the 1 1/8thth mile as well as running in a stakes race for the first time, while others have experience at the distance or at this level.
Anneau d’Or is one of those as he was the runner-up by a head in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last November. Missing by a neck one month later in the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Futurity to prove his Breeders’ Cup effort was no fluke, Anneau d’Or took three months off and finished ninth in the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes but was trying blinkers for the first time. With the equipment removed for Arkansas Derby, it’s very possible Anneau d’Or can return to his form of last fall and if he does that might be good enough to win this race. One more thing Anneau d’Or may have going for him is his pedigree for this distance as his sire is Medaglia d’ Oro, and he is out of a Tapit mare. Per a STATS Race Lens pedigree query, sons and daughters of Medaglia d’Oro have the most wins in dirt route stakes races at 9 to 10 furlongs of any other sire of entrants in the Arkansas Derby field.
Gouverneur Morris is proven at the level based on his runner-up effort in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity last October. After skipping the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in November to prepare for his 3-year-old campaign, Gouverneur Morris returned to win at a mile and 40 yards in February. One month later in the Grade 1 Florida Derby, Gouverneur Morris finished fourth of nine but in spite of that lower finish improved to a career-best 104 Figure. Although the sire of Gouverneur Morris (Constitution) has not had many horses run to date, one of those is the undisputed leader of the division and a horse who has won stakes at this distance, Tiz the Law. Gouverneur Morris is making his third start off a layoff and is on a pattern for an even better effort which could be good enough to win this division of the Arkansas Derby.
The rest of the field, with their best representative Equibase Speed Figures: Basin (89), Crypto Cash (89), Jungle Runner (85), Mo Mosa (87), My Friends Beer (89), Shooters Shoot (97), Winning Impression (89) and Wrecking Crew (100).
Given the likely faster-than-average early pace scenario, Farmington Road could easily improve off of his runner-up effort in the Oaklawn Stakes last month. The Oaklawn Stakes served as a local prep for the Arkansas Derby after the Derby was moved to this date. In that race, Farmington Road added blinkers for the first time and after lagging in last of 13 early rallied strongly to miss by a half-length at the wire. Two races before that, Farmington Road earned a career best 100 Figure, then 94, then 95. The pattern suggests he is improving once again and considering his late kick should be benefited by a contested early pace, Farmington Road could pass the field to win this division of the Arkansas Derby.
King Guillermo posted a 49-to-1 upset when winning the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby in March. Perhaps he shouldn’t have been disregarded by bettors as much as he was, because King Guillermo had earned 105 and 103 figures in his two previous races. Both were on turf and in 2019, but in one of them he finished third to Sole Volante in the Pulpit Stakes, who two races later won the Sam F. Davis Stakes on dirt, suggesting King Guillermo might do the same thing. Considering his effort in the Tampa Bay Derby earned a 110 figure which is even better than the 107 and 101 figures Nadal earned in his two recent stakes wins, King Guillermo must be considered a legitimate contender to win division two of the Arkansas Derby.
Silver Prospector proved he belonged at the level one race before the Rebel when he won the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes in February. Earning a career-best 102 figure in that race, Silver Prospector then regressed and finished sixth in the Rebel. However, before the Southwest, Silver Prospector had finished fourth, so it may be his pattern is to run a winning race after a poor race. If that occurs in the Arkansas Derby, Silver Prospector could be a factor as well.
Both Nadal (101 best route figure) and Wells Bayou (101 best route figure) are proven at the level.
The rest of the field, with their best representative Equibase Speed Figures: Code Runner (89), Fast Enough (104), Finnick the Fierce (91), Saratogian (76), Storm the Court (106) and Taishan (98).
Ellis Starr is the national racing analyst for Equibase. Visit the Equibase website for more on the race or to purchase handicapping products.